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Al-Shabaab Claims Responsibility for Attack In Djibouti and Threatens Further Bombings

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Days after a terrorist attack in Djibouti, al-Shabaab has released a statement, claiming responsibility for the attack and vowing to continue if the Horn of Africa nation does not withdraw its troops from Somalia and prevents the United States from maintaining its largest military base in Africa.

On Saturday evening, three people were killed, including two bombers and a Turkish national, while several foreigners, including seven French nationals, four Germans, three Spanish and several locals, were wounded after an attack on the La Chaumiere restaurant.  In the first attack of its kind in the small Horn of Africa state, a man and woman blew themselves up at a restaurant that was filled with Western military personnel.  Officials from Spain indicated Monday that three of its air force personnel, in Djibouti as part of the European Union naval mission EUNAVFOR Atalanta were hurt, one of whom was seriously wounded by shrapnel.  The Pentagon has indicated that no US Defence Department personnel were wounded.

At the time of the attack, many officials, including the Djibouti’s President, believed that the attack was linked to Djibouti’s ongoing military deployment in Somalia, where troops make up the African Union mission (AMISOM) force that is battling al-Shabaab militants and attempting to stabilize Somalia.  Djibouti also hosts military base’s for France and the United States.  These suspicions was confirmed Tuesday, when al-Shabaab released a statement claiming responsibility for the attack.

On Tuesday, al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the weekend bomb attack on a restaurant in Djibouti, urging the Horn of Africa nation and key Western ally to expel foreign forces and to shut down the United States’ main Africa base, or the country will face a wave of more serious attacks.

A group statement released Tuesday indicated “as part of the ongoing Jihad against the Western-led Crusade against Islam, Harakat Al-Shabaab Al Mujahideen forces have on Saturday night carried out a successful operation against the coalition of Western Crusaders based in Djibouti.”  The group stated that the attack “targeted a restaurant frequented predominantly by French Crusaders and their NATO allies from the US, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, resulting in 35 casualties.”  The statement further added “the attack was carried out against French Crusaders for their complicity in the massacres and persecution of our Muslim brothers in the Central African Republic and for their active role in training and equipping the apostate Djiboutian troops in Somalia and their growing intervention in the affairs of our Muslim lands.”  While in its statement, al-Shabaab indicated that Saturday’s attack resulted in thirty-five casualties, adding that two “senior French commanders” were also killed, local officials have stated that only three people, a Turkish national and two suicide bombers, died in the attack, with several others wounded.

The group also indicated that the attack was carried out in retaliation for Djibouti’s hosting of the United States’ largest military base in Africa.  The US base is used for operations across the region, including drone strikes against the militant group in Somalia.  Troops from Djibouti are also part of the African Union (AU) force that is in Somalia to fight al-Shabaab.

A part of al-Shabaab’s statement was also directed at Djibouti’s President Ismail Omar Guelleh, stating “having assented to the terms of the contract in the war against Islam with Barack Obama and having allowed access of your land and facilities to the Crusaders, you have voluntarily signed a deal with the devil,” adding “this attack is just the beginning; its merely the preliminary response that will soon follow – should you refuse to desist – will be far worse.”  Al-Shabaab has called on Djibouti to “pull your apostate troops out of Somalia immediately and expel all the Crusaders,” adding “failure to do so would incur far-reaching repercussions for your country, both in terms of your security and economy.”

The attack in Djibouti comes a week after al-Shabaab warned that its war would be moving to Kenya.  The militant group has also previously threatened Uganda, another country that has troops deployed in Somalia, that it will attack its citizens.  Al-Shabaab has carried out many gun and bomb attacks outside of Somalia, including an assault on a Kenyan shopping mall last year that killed sixty-seven people.  The militant group also demonstrated its capabilities of travelling long distances in order to carry out attacks.  The attack in Djibouti came on the same day as the attack on the Somali parliament in Mogadishu, which killed at least ten security officers.

Gunmen Storm Libyan Parliament during vote for Prime Minister

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30 April- Unidentified gunmen stormed the Libyan parliament on Tuesday during an evening session held to elect a new prime minister. The gunmen fired shots, and “forced MPs to abandon the session to select a new prime minister,” according to parliament spokesman Omar Humeidan.

Early reports indicated that a number of people had been injured in the attack, however those reports remain unconfirmed. The attackers are suspected to be supporters of Mohamed Boukar, one of seven candidates chosen for the prime-ministerial ballot, but who was among the losing candidates in the first round of voting on Tuesday morning.

The election is being held to find a replacement for former Prime Minister Abdallah Al-Thani, who resigned two weeks ago after less than a month in office following an attack on his family. His predecessor, Ali Zeidan received a vote of no-confidence in March.

During the first vote on Tuesday morning, businessman Ahmed Maitiq led the seven candidates, winning 67 votes. The evening vote put Maitiq against Omar Al-Hasi, the second place candidate who won 34 votes. Speaker Humeidan said that it would be “difficult for any candidate to win the support of 120 members of parliament, the quorum specified by the parliament’s internal regulations that were recently amended.” If the parliament fails to reach an agreement, the members will ask Thani to continue his role as prime minister until a new parliament is elected in four months.

Since the overthrow of Muammar Gadhafi in 2011, the Libyan government has been unable to control the heavily armed militias who were instrumental in his removal. Militias seeking their own aims in the relatively lawless nation have refused to lay down their weapons. The parliament building and members of the government have been targeted numerous times. Government officials, including foreign envoys, have been kidnapped or attacked, and the national congress building has been stormed dozens of times over the past 18 months.

The second round of voting has been postponed, and will take place on 4 May.

Libyan Government, Former Prime Minister, Call for International Assistance in War on Terror

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Speaking at a meeting in London, Libya’s former Prime Minister Ali Zeidan issued an alarming message that Libya could become “the next crucible of global terrorism.” He strongly urged Libya’s allies to assist the country from falling into collapse. Zeidan stated, “Libya could be a base for al-Qaeda for any operation to Italy, to Britain, to France, to Spain, to Morocco, to everywhere. Weapons are everywhere, ammunition is everywhere.” Zeidan urged Britain to increase its support to help to train Libyan security forces and to assist with economic and political reforms.

Libya’s engagement in the Arab Spring of 2011 took the form of a civil war which ultimately saw the death of Dictator Muammar Gadhafi and the end of his regime. However, despite the end of autocratic rule, the nation has remained in turmoil. Weaponry looted from the regime, valued in the millions of dollars, remains prolific on the black market and in the hands of tribal militias and Islamic extremist groups. Factions have seized Libya’s oil assets and land in the eastern part of the nation, threatening to form an autonomous nation. The Libyan government had been reluctant to launch offensives against the militias and extremist groups for fear that those same groups would exploit the added chaos.

Zeidan’s warning is dire: Libya has become ungovernable, and requires a UN peacekeeping force to prevent al-Qaeda or inspired derivatives from gaining a stronghold in the region. The northern part of the nation extends into the Mediterranean Sea, making it a gateway for illegal immigrants or dangerous individuals to access Europe.

The former prime minister added that Libya’s General National Congress is no longer legitimate, and feels that and new elections should be held to bring in a new interim authority. However, he remains sympathetic to the role he left: “Do you think it is a privilege to be prime minister of Libya at this time? It is some kind of suffering. What it has cost me in terms of my nerves and my health over these 15 months, it was unbelievable.

Zeidan served as prime minister for 15 months, during which he was kidnapped and held by a rebel faction. In March, he was ousted from Libya’s parliament in a vote of no confidence following escalating chaos culminating the government’s inability to prevent rebels in the east from attempting to illegally export Libyan oil. Libya has the largest known oil reserves in Africa, approximately 47 billion barrels. Currently, several ports in the east are in the hands of rebel factions.

Zeidan has since fled to Germany, where he had lived previously while in opposition against Gadhafi. However he is preparing to return to Libya in the near future, with intentions to restore stability to his nation.

Simultaneously, the Libyan government has also called for help and declared a “War on Terror”. A statement released on 25 March by the Council of Ministers states, “Libya’s interim government asks the international community and especially the United Nations to provide assistance to uproot terrorism […] the government confirms that it wants this war on terror to start as soon as possible.”

The statement continues, “The nation is now confronting terrorist groups which requires making security and military resources available to fight such epidemic and bring peace and security to our cities […] the interim government asks the world community, especially the United Nations to provide the needed support in order to eradicate terrorism from Libyan cities.

The statement marks the first time in Libyan history that the government has called for outside help to fight terrorists on Libyan soil. The call for help comes after a wave of bombings and assassinations in Benghazi, Derna and Sirte. In Benghazi, killings or injuries through shooting or car bombs, have occurred on a near daily basis. Opposition to the declaration of war on terrorism has already emerged, particularly amongst Islamist supporters in the nation, who feel they will be targeted for their political leanings.

On 28 March, Tarek Mitri, Chief of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) visited Tunisia’s capital, Tunis, to officially request help. Mitri spoke with Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki and Ennahda Party head Rachid Ghannouchi. Reportedly, Mitri asked the Tunisian government, which is on the road to recovery following their 2010 uprising, to share experiences regarding democratic transition and national dialogue.

Echoing the distress, a video has been released of Saddi Gadhafi, son of the former dictator. Saadi, who fled to Niger during the revolution, was extradited to Libya earlier this year. He is accused of trying to suppress the uprising against his father’s rule.

In the video, he says, “I apologise to the Libyan people, and I apologise to the dear brothers in the Libyan government for all the harm I’ve caused and for disturbing the security and stability of Libya. I admit that these things were wrong, and we should not have perpetrated these acts.” He also called on “those who carry weapons to hand over their weapons”. Saadi’s brother, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, remains in the hands of rebels in Zintan, where he was captured in November 2011.

There is no official word yet from the UK or the UN regarding support for action in Libya.

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Egypt’s Sisi to Run for Office

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Egypt’s Minister of Defence Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has told Egyptian state media that that he cannot “ignore the demands of the majority” for him to run as a candidate in the upcoming presidential election. The statement is not an official declaration; however it is the clearest indication made by Sisi, who has consciously avoided answering questions regarding his intention to run for president.

Last week, speculation on Sisi’s decision wavered following his decision to remain in the Egyptian Cabinet after the Prime Minister and other cabinet members unexpectedly resigned from office. His decision to remain as Defence Minister suggested that he would not run for office, despite gaining blessings from the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) in January. However, Sisi told the media that “official procedures” for his candidacy could be expected in the coming days. Sources close to Sisi have said that he will step down from his dual roles as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and Defence Minister before his official announcement. The new laws regulating the presidential election are to be approved by Interim President Adly Mansour within the next two weeks

Within Egypt, Sisi’s popularity has sky-rocketed since he famously removed former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi’s from office. In Cairo and across Egypt, posters of the Commander-in-Chief are prominent and growing. Several members of media, politicians, and businessmen have their support for Sisi’s candidacy, believing him to be able to restore the nation’s security and revive the economy. However, members of the Muslim Brotherhood, who remain loyal to former president Morsi, oppose the candidacy. Similarly, a portion of the Egyptian population feels strongly that the military is too heavily involved in politics, and putting Sisi into office will negate the revolution that overthrew Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Mubarak was the third in a succession of dictators hailing from a military background.

Internationally, Sisi has been equally divisive. His popularity has gained momentum among some governments, but is met with caution by others. Since the removal of Morsi, Egypt has appeared to distance itself from its once close relationship with the United States, and has moved back toward the relationship it had with Russia prior to 1979. In February, Sisi visited Moscow to sign a new cooperation and arms deal with the Kremlin. During the two-day session, Russian President Vladimir Putin publicly told Sisi, “I know that you have taken the decision to run for President. It’s a very responsible decision. I wish you luck, both from myself personally and from the Russian people.” This statement was met with unease in Washington. Marie Harf, spokeswoman for the US State Department, said, “Of course we don’t endorse a candidate and don’t think it’s, quite frankly, up to the United States or to Mr Putin to decide who should govern Egypt. It’s up to the Egyptian people to decide.” Once again, Egypt finds itself in a position between two major nations, a critical situation in awakening of the previously dormant Cold War.

When Sisi makes his announcement, he will be the third to announce his candidacy. Hamdeen Sabbahi, the founder of the Popular Current Party, threw his hat into the ring in February, claiming to run in order to “protect the revolution.” His decision caused a split amongst the Tamarod movement, which was the group that organised the mass protests resulting in Morsi’s departure. Membership has been divided between those supporting Sisi, and those supporting Sabbahi, who came in third during the 2012 elections.

In October 2013, Lieutenant General Sami Anan declared his intentions to run for office. In the Mubarak era, Anan was the Deputy Chairman of SCAF, and the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces. Until his announcement, he had remained out of the public spotlight. The move baffled Egyptians, including members of the Egyptian military. Some military analysts believe that Anan’s announcement served to test Egyptians’ reaction to the possibility of a military figure as president. Others believe Anan is expressing his own desires. Many political and military figures have reacted negatively to Anan’s intentions. The Egyptian armed forces went as far as to issue a statement warning Egyptians to not be confused by Anan’s efforts. The military spokesman urged the media not to publish Anan’s statements.

Sisi therefore faces two comparatively weaker opponents, and emerges as a tide of support swells around his candidacy. It is expected that the elections, which are expected before the end of Aprile, will see Sisi win by a large margin.

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Security At Sochi

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With the 2014 Olympic Games set to open in Sochi, Russia in two days, questions relating to security, and Russia’s ability to thwart further terrorist attacks, continue to be the main focus as thousands of spectators, media officials and sportsmen begin to descend on the Black Sea region.  Dubbed “Putin’s Games,” anticipation surrounding the upcoming Games has shared headline’s with issues of security and the region’s recent history of unrest and the potential of violence targeting spectators and athletes.

A week before the official opening of the Games, United States government officials issued a warning that more terrorist attacks in Russia were “very likely to occur” in the run-up to, or during, the Winter Olympics in Sochi, where eight-eight countries will be competing.  An official assessment of the threat has indicated that a Caucasus group, Imarat Kavakaz (IK), poses the main danger to the Games, which will occur on Russia’s Black Sea coast.  According to the threat assessment, this Caucasus group has repeatedly expressed a desire to target the Sochi Games.  On one such occurrence in July 2013, the group’s fugitive leader, Emir Doku Umarove, called on his followers to do what they could in order to disrupt the games.  Islamist militants from Dagestan, and nearby republics of Ingushetia and Chechnya, are also considered by officials in Moscow to be a major threat to the Games.

Recent Terrorist Attacks

Over the past few months, anticipation for the opening of the Games has been overshadowed by continuing questions relating to the safety and security of athletes and spectators in the wake of a number of suicide bombings and attacks.

In December 2013, thirty-four people were killed in two separate explosions that were carried out by suicide bombers in the southern Russian city of Volgograd.  The two bombings occurred just months after another suicide bombing targeted a bus in the city and just two days after a car bomb killed three people in the southern city of Pyatigorsk on 27 December.  Pyatigorsk lies 270 km (170 miles) east of Sochi.

On 29 December, a suicide bombing took place at the Volgorad-1 station in the city of Volograd, which is situated in the Volograd Oblast of Southern Russia.  The blast killed eighteen people and injured forty-four.  The attack, which occurred around 12:45 PM Moscow Time, was carried out near the metal detectors by the entrance of the station.  A day later, on the morning of 30 December at about 8:30 AM Moscow Time in the Dzerzhinsky district in Volograd, a bombing targeted the No. 1233 trolleybus of route 15A, which connects a suburb to Volograd’s downtown area.  The explosion occurred as the trolleybus passed one of the city’s main markets.  The attack killed sixteen people and injured forty-one.   The two bombings occurred just two months after a suicide bomber set off explosives on a bus.  The attack, which occurred in October, killed six people and injured another thirty.  It was also the first incident to occur outside the North Caucasus region after Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov called for a resumption of attacks on civilians, and urged militants to target the Sochi Games.

 

In January 2014, Russian investigators announced that they believed the perpetrators of the two Volograd bombings in late December were two men who arrived in the city from the North Caucasus region.  A video posted on 19 January, by a group calling itself Vilayat Dagestan, depicted what appeared to be the bombers donning explosive belts and brandishing weapons.  During the video, the two men warned President Vladimir Putin to expect a “present” at the Olympics.

At the end of January 2014, Russia’s National Anti-Terrorist Committee (NAK) announced the identities of two suicide bombers responsible for killing two people in the Volograd.  According to the NAK, Asker Samedov and Suleyman Magomedov were members of a group based in the town of Buynaksk, officials further noted that two men suspected of helping the terrorists were arrested in Dagestan.

Despite the arrests, threats of further attacks have continued and Russian police announced in late January that they were hunting for other suspects, including a woman whom they fear may be planning to carry out a suicide bomb attack during the Games.  Police officials in Sochi put up wanted posters in hostels around the town.  The woman, 23-year-old Ruzana Ibragimova, from Dagestan in the North Caucasus region, is believed to be the widow of an Islamist militant.  Officials in Russia believe that despite tight security, she entered Sochi earlier this month.  Other police posters have indicated that at least two other potential female suicide bombers are also at large.

Several national Olympic associations have also reported receiving emails threatening athletes with attacks.  A statement by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) indicated that the email appeared to be “a random message from a member of the public,” adding that it posed no threat.  Officials at the British Olympic Association indicated that they “receive correspondence of every type and it is not uncommon to come across something like this that lacks credibility.  While the IOC and national bodies, have widely dismissed such emails, deeming them as not credible, the threat of an attack during the Games remains real.

Security

Since the December bombings, officials in Russia launched a massive security operation to provide security for the Winter Olympic Games.  Despite growing international concerns and scrutiny of Russia’s ability to thwart such attacks, officials in Russia have ensured those travelling to Sochi, that security is their upmost priority, as the country will host the largest event since the fall of the Soviet Union.

After the deadly suicide bombings in Volograd, Russia launched one of the largest security operations in Olympic history.  More than 30,000 police and interior ministry troops have been deployed, while access to Sochi and the Olympic area has been limited.  According to Emergency Situations Minister Vladimir Puchkov, “starting 7 January, all divisions responsible for ensuring the guests’ security at the Games are being put on combat alert,” adding that “every facility will be put under protection and a space-based monitoring system will be launched.”

Russian officials have established two security zones to protect the Games.  A “controlled zone,” located near the Olympic venues, will limit access to people with tickets and proof of identity, while another “forbidden zone” will be in place in large areas around Sochi.  Vehicles not registered locally, and which do not have special accreditation, will be banned from the city.  The sale of firearms, explosives and ammunition will also be prohibited.  Airport-style security is in force for commuters using local trains.  Hundreds of volunteers will also body-search all passengers at each station.  Two US warships will be on standby in the Black Sea when the Games begin on 7 February.  Washington has also offered to supply Russia with hi-tech equipment in order to help detect improvised explosives.

Despite this, security concerns remains.  On Wednesday, Australian Olympic team chef de mission Ian Chesterman announced that team members were banned from travelling into Sochi city as a security precaution.  A statement issued by Australian Olympic team officials indicated that athletes will be limited to locations within the security perimeters of the Olympic Park and sporting complexes within the mountain zone.  In response, IOC spokesman Mark Adams stated that while the recommendation to avoid Sochi city had not come from the IOC, “we believe that security is being handled very well.”

With the Winter Olympics now being a prime target for terror attacks, Moscow has had no choice but to ensure the maximum possible security in Sochi.  However the suicide bombings in Volograd have demonstrated that Russia’s security problem extends beyond the Black Sea region, and will likely continue after the conclusion of the Games on 23 February.  The recent terror attacks have demonstrated that terror groups can strike anywhere.  However while it is difficult to secure an Olympic city, it is almost impossible to secure the whole country.  And while the eyes of the world will focus on Sochi for the next few weeks, and will likely scrutinize what are set to be the most expensive Olympic Games, once the Olympic flame is extinguished, officials and authorities in Russia will have to turn their focus onto the North Caucasus region and the area’s history of instability.

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